It’s early morning. Rain spots the windows of a railcar hauling forty writers toward the glacier trailhead. Some of the writers are published. Two are well established. All of us are talking loud enough to be heard over the creaks and grumbles of the White Pass Yukon train car. If each writer were making this trip solo, we would be quiet observers. We’d pay attention to the amplified, chipper voice that calls our attention to the U.S. Custom’s station on the Alaska border and then a great view of Skagway Harbor.
After the trail groans to a stop at Mile 14 we leave our warm, noisy car and watch the other train passengers—who all slept last night on a cruise ship—watch us. We pull on rain gear and start the mile and a half hike to the glacier cabin. The sounds made by a glacier-fed river dominates the walk. We pass a spruce tree scarred by the claws of stretching black bears. I can’t resist placing four fingers into one set of claw marks. Nearby beads of rain water weigh down the leaves of lupines.
After the cabin two friends and I move on toward the glacier on a trail over moraine. Not enough time has passed since the retreating glacier exposed it for a proper forest to form here. In a half-mile the stubby alder and popular woods end. We see, for the first time, the glacier and U-shaped valley of rocky rubble dropped in place by melting ice. Walls of moraine rise a half-mile on both sides of us. In sad realization, I understood just how deep the remnant glacier was just a few hundred years ago.